Things That Matter

Cuban Man Sentenced To 14 Years For Kidnapping And Extortion Of Undocumented Immigrants

The man who led a group of criminals to prey on and kidnap undocumented women and children in an extortion scheme has been sentenced to 14 years in prison by a federal judge. Francisco Betancourt, a Cuban immigrant, led a group of other Latino, Spanish-speaking men to target Central American immigrants, who had just arrived, disoriented, at bus stops in New York City, seeking to be reunited with their families. Betancourt would use his Latinidad to gain the immigrants’ trust, then, steal their bus tickets, and coerce them to get into a cab that would ultimately cost their families well over $1,000 in “cab fees.”

District Attorney Judge John H. Durham announced Thursday that Betancourt was sentenced in New York, New York by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill to 168 months of imprisonment in the Bridgeport facility, followed by three years of supervised release. Betancourt will be 84 years old by the time he is released from prison.

Francisco Betancourt conspired with three other Latino men to carry out the kidnappings of primarily young mothers with children.

Credit: @TheWomensWatch / Twitter

“The victims included women, men, and children from Central American countries who did not speak English and were seeking asylum in the U.S,” according to a statement by the US District of Connecticut Attorney’s office. “Some of the victims planned to travel from New York to Connecticut. Telling the victims that a connecting bus was not available and that they would provide transportation, Betancourt and others coerced the victims into vehicles. The co-conspirators would then drive the victims around, sometimes for hours, and refused to release them until they or their families agreed to pay the co-conspirators an exorbitant amount of money, on average more than a $1000.”

Betancourt used his Latinidad to victimize fellow immigrants.

Credit: @migrantfreedom / Twitter

Betancourt allegedly fled Cuba on the Mariel boatlift that famously aided a mass emigration of Cubans in the 1980s. Prosecutors allege that Betancourt was one of the prisoners, convicted of theft, that Castro ejected from the island and put on a ship with other freed inmates and mentally ill people to Mariel, Florida. Betancourt has served two prison sentences in the United States since his arrival. 

His victims were often young women traveling with children. They were nearly at the end of a long, treacherous journey, often having traveled from their dangerous homes in Central America, through Mexico, and past the U.S. border. Once granted asylum, or strapped with tracking ankle devices, border authorities put them on a bus from the border to New York City. Days of traveling later, they have one more bus to catch before being reunited with family.

At times, Betancourt’s co-conspirators would pose as immigration officers to further intimidate the victims.

Credit: @icegov / Twitter

Betancourt and his crime gang could spot the families from a mile away, having been immigrants themselves. They would steal their bus tickets and immigration forms and tell them that they worked for ICE and had arranged a taxi cab service instead. With their contact information in hand, from their immigration forms, they would call their relatives and request a taxi fare (ransom) for $2,000. Often, the families didn’t have enough money on hand, and they would settle for hundreds of dollars less. Because the relatives were often undocumented, they would never report the crime. 

Half of the four-person gang of criminals have been sentenced, with another two co-conspirators awaiting their sentences.

Pascual Rodriguez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, had already been sentenced in July to nearly 12 years in prison. Upon his release, his custody will be transferred to ICE, which will promptly deport him. Carlos Antonio Hernandez and Lucilo Cabrera have both been convicted in the extortion scheme, but are awaiting their sentences. Meanwhile, Betancourt is likely to live out his remaining days in prison.

Meanwhile, folks are pointing out the similarities between Betancourt’s crimes and Trump’s policies. 

Credit: Twitter

“Strangely enough, Trump is doing the exact same thing……” tweeted Raul A. Maestri, Jr (@itsgoodtoberaul). “Can he charge Trump with the same?” asks Justin Clay (@jclaywow32). “I hope that man was named Donald J Trump,” tweeted @LindaMadison10. Trump’s administration has seen an increase in privatization of immigrant detention facilities. The stricter the punishments placed on immigrants, the more money private detention centers receive from the federal government. 

Trump’s policies have drastically increased the number of migrants in detention and privatized detention facility political action committees like the GEO Group Inc contribute 89 percent of their political donations to Republicans.

READ: Senior Border Patrol Officer Gets To Retire After Allegedly Kidnapping And Sexually Assaulting Another Agent

This T-Shirt Has Caused Controversy For Its Anti-Immigrant Imagery And Now The Store Has Been Forced To Apologize

Things That Matter

This T-Shirt Has Caused Controversy For Its Anti-Immigrant Imagery And Now The Store Has Been Forced To Apologize

Ebony Mart

A shirt with the slogan “got papers?” featuring the silhouette of a family fleeing caused outrage in Port Arthur, Texas. The T-shirt leaves nothing to the imagination and would only be worn by someone who delights in interrogating the immigration status of others. 

The Ebony Mart on Gulfway Drive, where the t-shirt is sold, is a hot spot for Latinx families in Port Arthur. 

“A lot of friends, family, everybody know this store. I knew this store since I was a baby,” Kathy Delarosa told KFDM News she visits the store two or three times a week. 

The 21-year-old was a loyal customer so when she visited Ebony Mart and saw the t-shirt in person, she was naturally upset. 

“I don’t think it’s really nice to have for the store because a lot of Hispanics will get offended. I don’t think they should sell it at all,” she said.

The Port Arthur Latinx community is not happy with Ebony Mart. 

Needless to say, seeing the t-shirt in their community did not make Latinx residents feel at home or welcome. The Port Arthur members felt like it was a slap in the face to immigrants. 

The owner, whose identity has not been revealed, claimed that she did not know the t-shirt was a part of a store order, according to KFDM. When KFDM spoke with the owner over the phone she said she no longer sold the shirts, instructed her manager to remove all of them from the racks, and extended an apology to the immigrant community. 

A candidate for Port Arthur City Council, Armando Ruiz, was not happy with the t-shirt either. 

“That’s outrageous,” said Ruiz. “That’s crazy. How a store would put out that type of product out there to sell. This is where I used to buy my uniforms, back when I went to school seven years ago. So this store is frequented a lot. It’s in a predominantly Hispanic area. A lot of Hispanics do come to this store.”

Political and offensive t-shirts appear to be a trend in the Trump era. 

T-shirts seemingly geared toward Trump supporters have been making the rounds, many of them have been singled out as offensive. Extrapolate what you will with regards to what that says about fans of the president. Just this week Bloomingdales was forced to remove a t-shirt that said one of Trump’s favorite phrases “Fake News.” 

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention, and we apologize for any offense we may have caused. We take this feedback very seriously and are working quickly to remove this t-shirt. Again, thank you for taking the time to alert us,” the brand said in a statement. 

However, Pamela Wood s Baltimore journalist was not satisfied with the response saying, “Apologizing ‘for any offense we may have caused’ is not a sincere apology. This is not about journalists’ hurt feelings. This is about damage done to our democracy when your brand joins in perpetuating and celebrating the idea of “fake news.” Please try again.”

Port Arthur Residents feel business owners should be mindful of who they are selling to.

Texas is one of the most diverse states with Houston being the most diverse city in the country. Port Arthur is multicultural as well with Blacks making up 41 percent of the population, Whites 37 percent, and Latinx-identifying folks making up 29.6 percent of the population according to 2010 Census data. 

“When I saw the shirt, it is very offensive,” said Henry Jones III. “You have different ethnic groups in this area. In Southeast Texas, you have to be very careful what type of product you put out because you don’t want to offend people especially with something of that sort.”

Ruiz echoed Jones’ sentiment saying business owners need to be mindful of the communities they are representing. 

“They should look at the product before they put it out there to sell for the community,” said Ruiz. “They do need to look around their surroundings and see what type of people live in their community and check out what type of product they can have and can’t have.”

The Trailer For ‘Diary Of A Future President’ Will Give Latinas A Chance To See Themselves As The President

Entertainment

The Trailer For ‘Diary Of A Future President’ Will Give Latinas A Chance To See Themselves As The President

diaryofafuturepresident / Instagram

It’s finally here. The trailer for Disney+’s upcoming series “Diary of a Future President,” and it’s so much better than we expected. The time period is right pinche now and a Latina is President of the United States. She discovers her 6th-grade diary and we travel back in time to meet her tween self navigating the awkwardness of puberty, running into your school teacher at Victoria’s Secret, and trying to play it cool in front of your crush. It’s exactly the kind of endearing, relatable female empowerment children’s series we all wanted to watch as niñas, and with actresses like Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin,” Selenis Leyva of “Orange Is the New Black,” and break-out child actress Tess Romero, we can expect the perfect, human execution of an alternate reality that may just catalyze a young Latina to grow up to become President of the United States by the show’s very existence. 

We have Gina Rodriguez to thank for this empowering message to young Latina girls around the country. Rodriguez is the director, producer, and star of “Diary of a Future President,” which is slated to begin streaming on Disney+ on Jan. 17, 2020.

The trailer begins with President Elena Cañero-Reed being handed an old book that begged the question, “Madame President, what is in there?”

CREDIT: DISNEY / YOUTUBE

“It’s my old diary. I started writing it in the 6th grade. It’s a day by day account of how I got here. I really had a lot to say,” Rodriguez’s character tells her potential Vice President (her role has not been revealed yet). The series arc is set up to take viewers back in time to when the future POTUS was just a regular old tween starting out middle school, arguably a far more stressful time than any amount of time in the White House. We love that Disney+ seeks to humanize a Latina in power by showing young kids what’s possible. That a Latina President was once a pre-teen, crushing on boys or girls, having strong friendships, and also doing well in school. We are here for this message of hope and empowerment, which may just be the very seed that America’s future Latina president needs to have planted during these formative years. 

It’s basically “si se puede” but Disney+.

Meet Tess Romero, the actress who plays young Elena. 

CREDIT: DISNEY / YOUTUBE

Tess Romero is just 12-years-old and has already landed her first starring role in “Diary of a Future President.” In real life, Romero has attended her fair share of protests. When she was just 9-years-old, she made her own “Fight Like a Girl” protest sign and marched in the record-breaking Women’s March in 2016. 

Elena, Romero’s 12-year-old fictional counterpart, is a Cuban-American girl living with her brother, Bobby, played by Charlie Bushnell, and mother Gabby, played by Selenis Leyva.

Elena’s mother, Gabby, is both a lawyer and Elena’s role model.

CREDIT: DISNEY / YOUTUBE

We’ll get to watch Elena start middle school with her childhood best friend, Sasha, and eventually watch her catch her mom kissing another man in her living room. “I was just trying to stay afloat in these tumultuous middle school waters,” Elena tells the viewers in a voiceover. “Things are changing. Changes might surprise you. Change becomes the new normal,” she tells us as she takes offense at her mom’s new boyfriend making eggs for the family. Elena is afraid that he’ll take over the “contributions” she makes to the family. “Nobody could ever replace you,” her mother imploringly tells her.

The future President of the United States is just like the rest of us.

She enters the pleasures of Latinidad and starts to grow a lady mustache.

CREDIT: DISNEY / YOUTUBE

“You’ve got toothpaste on your mustache,” Elena’s brother tells her to her absolute horror. Remember that very first mustache hair you plucked, ladies? The pain, so fresh and new and unfathomable to believe you have to deal with it for the rest of your life. Unless you choose not to.

Elena runs into her middle school teacher at Victoria’s Secret, because haven’t we all.

CREDIT: DISNEY / YOUTUBE

The horrors of seeing your teacher outside of school is already a shock to the system, let alone while wearing a DD bra outside your clothes. Welcome to life, Elena. We can’t wait to meet you.

You can watch the full trailer below!

READ: Gina Rodriguez Is Producing ‘Diary Of A Future President,’ A TV Show That Will Show Us A Cuban-American Girl As President And It’s Everything We Need RN